Today’s date marks the 22nd anniversary of the unveiling of the Royal Canadian Mint’s two-colour, bi-metallic “toonie,” which eventually replaced Canada’s $2 banknote.
On Sept. 21, 1995, a $2 coin featuring a polar bear design was unveiled during a ceremony at the Metro Toronto Zoo by former Cabinet minister David Dingwall, who was then in charge of public works and government services.
Canada’s $2 coin was first proposed by the federal Liberal government in its 1995 budget as a measure to save taxpayers more than $250 million through 20 years. This was because of the coin’s 20-year lifespan, which greatly exceeded the one-year lifespan of the old $2 bill.
TOONIE INTRODUCED ACROSS CANADA
Festivities marking the toonie’s introduction were held in cities across Canada, where bank-sponsored coin exchanges invited the public to trade their old banknotes and coins for the new $2 coin.
As of Feb. 19, 1996, the Bank of Canada stopped issuing the $2 banknote (although it remains legal tender and can be used as long as it’s in circulation). As of 2006—one decade after Canadians began trading their old banknotes for toonies—there were more than 100 million $2 notes yet to be recovered by Canada’s central bank.
The toonie’s polar bear design, by Canadian wildlife artist Brent Townsend, was overseen by Canadians.
In March 1995, a research group conducted a national survey on behalf of the Mint to explore Canadians’ attitudes toward possible themes for the design of a new coin. Of the Canadians polled, 65 per cent chose wildlife as the artistic theme, and among the most popular suggestions was a bear.
In commemoration of the new coin, Townsend’s hometown of Campbellford, Ont. constructed an eight-metre toonie monument similar to Sudbury’s Big Nickel and the Big Loonie in Echo Bay.
For the eventual February 1996 launch, the Mint produced 60 million bi-metallic toonies, each with an outer ring of nickel and an inner core of copper, aluminum and nickel. Between 1996 and 2012, the toonie had a weight of 7.3 grams; a 28-mm diameter; and a 1.8-mm thickness.
Since 2012, the toonie has been composed of an outer ring of multi-ply nickel-plated steel with a multi-ply brass-plated aluminum bronze core. Today’s $2 coin weights 6.92 grams; has a diameter of 28 mm; and a thickness of 1.75 mm.